By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Combining poetry, wit, polemic and unbelievable scholarship with memorial and autobiography, those essays have set new criteria of ardour and truthfulness for present theoretical writing. The essays diversity from discussions of Diderot, Oscar Wilde and Henry James to queer children, political correctness adn the poetics of spanking. What unites developments is the imaginative and prescient of a brand new queer activism and proposal which, even if challenging and unsafe, is usually cause, inclusive and enjoyable.
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The reader who ceases to make a fetish out of Suzanne’s inviolable passivity or the immaculation of her experiential surface finds, on the other hand, both a livelier and an oddly more coherent story inscribed on the same pages. When a woman writes, “It was ordained that in that establishment / should suffer all the ills it is possible to go through” (p. 114, emphasis added), as a way of introducing the lingering death—from an illness caught while nursing herself—of the only other nun there who 32 QUEER TUTELAGE has stood by her, shouldn’t it be possible to see that woman as a stubbornly selfish one?
In fact, she is especially insistent about her agency in the one, prolonged instance where she is the victim of horrifying conventual sadism and torture. On the death of her first, sainted Mother Superior, I hastened to make my position worse…. The first thing I did was to give myself up to all the grief I felt at the loss of our first Superior, and sing her praises on every occasion, make comparisons between her and our present ruler which were unfortunate for the latter…. I read and re-read our regulations and knew them by heart….
16. ” Newsweek, 24 December 1990, p. 48. “Queer and Now” was written in 1991. Ken Wissoker thought up the title, and Mark Seltzer cheered me on with it. 20 QUEER TUTELAGE 22 PRIVILEGE OF UNKNOWING: DIDEROT’S THE NUN Knowledge is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with it in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons. Mitterrand knows English but Mr. Mitterrand who must negotiate in an acquired tongue, the ignorant Mr.